Op FORTITUDE is transforming lives of homeless veterans this Christmas and beyond, writes Johnny Mercer

21 December 2023, 10:55

Op FORTITUDE is transforming lives of homeless veterans this Christmas and beyond, writes Johnny Mercer
Op FORTITUDE is transforming lives of homeless veterans this Christmas and beyond, writes Johnny Mercer. Picture: LBC/Alamy
Johnny Mercer

By Johnny Mercer

  • Johnny Mercer is the Minister for Veterans Affairs

Christmas is a time for thinking of others. That selflessness is something which I recognise in our servicemen and women – those brave people who go above and beyond to protect us and our allies all year round.

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And yet, we have historically faced a problem among some of our veteran community, where a small number of those who sacrificed so much for our safety end up homeless and vulnerable on our streets.

Anyone sleeping rough is always a concern, but homelessness among our veterans is particularly troubling.

I know from working with veterans for so long that each day can bring its own challenges, both physically and mentally. You add homelessness to that mix, and things can only get worse.

I want to thank every single UK veteran for their service. I know that many of you feel the compassion of not just your family and friends but of the public who value the sacrifice you have made.

I came into politics to change the way that this country cares for its veterans.

That is why I am committed to making sure no veteran faces the need to sleep rough due to a lack of provision this Christmas.

This is the aim of Op FORTITUDE: to help ensure homeless veterans get the right support and go on to fulfil their potential.

Indeed, in a first-of-its-kind initiative, backed by £8.55 million, we have established a single hotline which veterans can access if they are at risk of, or experiencing homelessness.

It’s run by the Riverside Group – one of the country’s leading social housing providers – who have trained staff specifically to support this special cohort.

Once a veteran calls the number and outlines their situation, if they are eligible for help, staff will alert the relevant local authorities, housing providers and charities to provide them with immediate and more long-term support.

And we have already made great strides.

Since Op FORTITUDE began earlier this year, we have housed nearly 400 veterans.

That’s 400 veterans supported, their needs being addressed with wraparound care where required, regaining their peace of mind, and ready to return to society.

Last week, I was honoured to meet some of the veterans who have benefited from this service. One told me this was the first time he had his own front door in years. He had spent six years on the streets and in hostels, and finally, this Christmas, he has a room of his own.

I also met the dedicated staff providing their specialist medical care. That Christmas spirit of selflessness is a belief that they hold all-year-round, and it was inspiring to witness first hand.

I know that we need to do more to spread this support throughout the country. As a new year approaches, my dedication to this cause will not falter – but looking after our veterans is not a pet project of mine; it’s the Nation’s duty and we all have a role to play.

Op FORTITUDE shows the layered approach we need to take to support those brave men and women who deserve so much from us all.

Vulnerable veterans across the country now have access to Op FORTITUDE, a new dedicated referral pathway for homeless veterans, including those sleeping on the streets.

You can call the Op FORTITUDE hotline on: 0800 952 0774

Or visit here for online referrals.